Premier League Tactical Preview: Why Man Utd & Spurs could both lose this weekend
Alex Keble looks at four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend Premier League action, suggesting Watford will add to Manchester United's misery on Saturday...
"All four of the goals Spurs have conceded this season have been from headers, reflecting their inability to stop crosses from coming into the box in their narrow 4-2-3-1 system. Neither full-back gets enough support, which is a big problem considering Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are two of the best attacking full-backs in the division."
Liverpool's aerial threat to decide tight contest
Tottenham v Liverpool
Saturday, 12:30, Live on Sky Sports Premier League
A creeping sloppiness in central midfield has begun to threaten Tottenham Hotspur's season, with Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele both looking weaker than usual so far. This explains how Watford were able to outbattle Spurs a fortnight ago, a pattern that could be repeated when Liverpool visit on Saturday. Liverpool's gegenpress will put them under pressure and force errors, and yet this isn't the biggest threat to the Tottenham goal.
All four of the goals Spurs have conceded this season have been from headers, reflecting their inability to stop crosses from coming into the box in their narrow 4-2-3-1 system. Neither full-back gets enough support, which is a big problem considering Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are two of the best attacking full-backs in the division.
Their crosses could cause yet more problems for the hosts, particularly from set-pieces. In a tight game on a compressed pitch (the result of two teams pressing high), corners and freekicks could be the difference - especially since Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are both so dominant in the air.
Holebas and Pereyra will attack Utd's weak flanks
Watford v Manchester United
Saturday, 17:30, Live on BT Sport 1
Manchester United are not out of the woods. Watford's aggressive pressing, compact midfield, and bold attacking tactics should ruffle United's feathers and cause Jose Mourinho's team to regress once again. When this happens, Jose Holebas and Roberto Pereyra can team up on the left to overwhelm United's poorly defended flanks.
United's 2-0 victory at Turf Moor a fortnight ago did not signal the end of their crisis. Burnley have been very poor so far this season, playing without the bite and energy of previous seasons due to their Europa League participation; United were given time and space to overcome their nervousness. That won't be the case at Watford, where the strong tackling of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure should put Jose Mourinho's team on the back foot.
The biggest defensive concern for United is in the full-back positions. Without the wingers tracking back effectively their narrow 4-3-3 asks too much of Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw, an issue exacerbated by the overall tactical directionlessness engulfing the club. United cannot handle transitions well, which should mean Valencia is isolated against Pereyra (cutting inside) and Holebas (on the overlap). The former has three goals and the latter four assists so far this campaign.
Burnley to kick-start campaign with classic Dyche performance
Wolves v Burnley
Sunday, 13:30, Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Now their European adventure is over Burnley's domestic campaign can finally get under way. Tiredness has clearly been a factor, with players visibly struggling to cope with the Thursday-Sunday schedule, but equally important has been the lack of time on the training ground to prepare for the next opponent. A trip to Molineaux is a great opportunity to reassert themselves in the Premier League.
Burnley were barely pressing at all in their first four games, giving opponents all the space they needed to build attacks. Wolves will face a different beast on Sunday after a refreshing international break; Sean Dyche will have worked diligently on keeping a compact shape to frustrate Nuno Esperito Santo's predictable tactics.
The hosts use the same 3-4-3 every game, with inside forwards Diogo Jota and Helder Costa ensuring Wolves' attacks filter predominantly through the middle of the pitch, at least until they enter the final third. Burnley will have formulated a plan to squeeze out space for Jota and Costa, while quickly shifting out as a unit to the flanks to shut down the raking passes of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho. A classic low-scoring Burnley game is to be expected.
Sigurdsson & Anderson to star in end-to-end encounter
Everton v West Ham
Sunday, 16:00, Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Everton are down to the bear bones defensively with Seamus Coleman adding to their woes while on international duty. Marco Silva will have to field Jonjoe Kenny at right-back, making Everton vulnerable to the speed and fluency down West Ham's left, although the visitors are still in serious danger of losing their fifth consecutive league game. There should be plenty of goals at Goodison Park.
Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio are forging a strong partnership on the left flank, their pace occasionally looking threatening in an otherwise disastrous campaign for West Ham. They should find joy against Kenny and a depleted defence, not least because Silva's attacking formation inevitably leaves space in behind for counter-attacks. The Hammers will be able to stretch the hosts, creating an end-to-end contest.
However, Everton are still favourites. There are too many fatal flaws in the West Ham defence to list fully, but of gravest concern is at right-back and in central midfield. This is why left-centre midfielders tend to flourish against Manuel Pellegrini's men; Gylfi Sigurdsson will have time and space to create plenty of goalscoring opportunities.